Full Review: More fun than a barrel full of robotic monkeys
Before I start this review let's have a quick lesson in basic math. Capcom has repeated ad nauseum that the Mega Man Anniversary Collection was created to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of the blue bomber. The original Mega Man was released in 1987, seventeen years ago. Now, Mega Man 2, which many gamers consider the high point of the series, was released fifteen years ago in 1989. While I think it's great that Capcom is celebrating the release of one of the greatest sequels ever, Mega Man 2 was not the creation of the series. So while seventeen isn't exactly a "special" anniversary, it's an anniversary worth celebrating...
For those that don't know, the Mega Man series has practically set the standard for 2D platforming action over the years. You control the Blue Bomber, Mega Man, who's only task is to stop the evil Dr. Wily and his eight robot masters. And he keeps coming back, enough times to fill seven sequels and two Street Fighter-esque Power Battle games that have never been released outside of Japan.
In Mega Man, players are equipped with only an Arm Cannon as they jump, climb ladders, battle robotic enemies and run through each robot master's stage. At the end of the stage is the fight with the robot master and if the player wins, they steal the robot master's weapon and they can use it as they progress through the game. After all of the robot masters are defeated, it's the trek through Wily's castle where the challenge is ramped up even higher and instead of robot masters like Quick Man, Magnet Man and Wave Man, comes giant robotic bosses like the almost impossible dragon of Mega Man II. And then there's the climatic fight with Wily as players have to use every Energy Tank and extra life they have to defeat each of his multiple forms. Repeat through all eight games.
Even after seventeen years, the series feels as fresh as ever. Some of the middle Mega Man games (II, III, IV, V) hold up better than the recently re-released Legend of Zelda. The control is perfect. Square shoots, X jumps, O slides in the games that support it and Triangle is a rapid fire button or as it more popularly known in the NES days: "Turbo". The Dual Shock does a perfect stand-in for an old NES controller.
By Mega Man 7 the series started tumbling downhill. With the jump to the Super NES and later the PSone, Capcom tried to make the series (and its star in the literal sense) bigger. And it just doesn't work. Familiar enough to be Mega Man, but weird enough that you'll want to stick with the NES originals.
In the Power Battle games, the series takes an arcade fighter twist as it gives players the choice to play as Mega Man, Proto Man or Bass and take on a set of Wily's robot masters in a Street Fighter style one-on-one battle. The three characters all play pretty much the same and the game's feature plenty of inspiration from old Mega Man games as you can still steal the weapons of defeated robot masters and use them as you progress through the game. They're novel enough, but the free play mode gives no sense of challenge, you can just keep continuing. After you play through them once you'll probably never go back to them again.
The only major change to the gameplay is the option of adding Mega Man 8's Navi Mode to every game. With it, players can receive hints with the press of the Select button and on screen help is given in the form of arrows pointing out places of interest. Navi Mode also pretties up the Start Menu and the energy. In fact, the energy bars now include a count of how many shots of a special weapon players have left. Players can also use the shoulder buttons to cycle through all of the special weapons Mega Man has acquired without going into the Start Menu. This feature is included when Navi Mode is off as well and purists are given the chance to ignore this new feature if they choose, obviously just don't use the shoulder buttons. Otherwise the gameplay is untouched. You won't be doing anything before it's time. Mega Man still tallies points. Mega Man III still introduces Rush the Dog and the slide. And you won't have access to the Mega Buster or be able to re-enter the levels fallen robot masters until Mega Man IV.
One other feature that spreads across each game is that the password system is no longer necessary. MMAC saves your progress to a memory card as you complete each stage in each game. But for those that still have piles of messy notebook paper with things like "Red D4, Blue A3, Blue B1... etc" written on them, Capcom has left the password function in the game.
The music and graphics of the Mega Man series (except for 7 and 8) are firmly steeped in the 8-bit NES tradition. While these graphics won't wow any regular PS2 player, they were great for their day and they're recreated exactly as they were here. Familiar patterns, reused enemies throughout the series, and beautiful background sprite-work highlighted the series and it's nice to see that today. The design of the robot masters and the various Wily level bosses also still holds up very well to this day. The rock monster and the giant robotic monstrosities of Mega Man III will never stop looking cool.
The music of Mega Man has always been considered a high point of the NES days and this collection recreates that as well. Real bands have been started with the sole purpose of remixing old Mega Man music and I can see why. Sure it sounds like a collection of beeps to some, but that music was so well put together it was years ahead of everything else. Today's orchestral scores wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the orchestral scores of midi music that was featured in 8-bit classics like Mega Man II.
It's also worth noting that when you first crack the game out of the box, the volume of the background music is cranked up really high. I went back to the originals and the sound effects had more of a pop to them. In Anniversary Collection, they are drowned out by the music, great as it is. This can be adjusted through the Options menu, so it's not a big deal, but it's a little off putting the first time you boot up the game. Navi Mode also features remixed music tracks for every game. And it's pretty good, a different change of pace to some of the stages, but give me the original midi beats.
Like any good game collection, MMAC also includes plenty of bonus material to keep everyone happy. Of course there's the remixed music of Navi Mode, but there are also separate remixed tracks that players can unlock by beating the various games and I highly recommend the remixed Proto Man theme, it's great. The game also features concept art and an episode of the Mega Man anime. It sounds more impressive on the package, but the bonus content supplies enough Mega memories that it works. Capcom did a good job, but as a PS2 owner, I would have like to have had the developer interviews that the GameCube disc got as well. I live for that kind of stuff in game collections.